Monday, December 10, 2007

I come upon the giants in the fields, sleeping in the aftermath of their grim slaughter.

Their bodies rumble with deep, earth-shaking roars, and I whisper in my noble mount's ears to calm him. The stench of blood fills the air, and I restrain my stomach as it struggles for freedom. Beside each hulking body lays piles upon piles of sheep, torn to pieces. I expect to see white fluff floating on the wing--a silly conceit.

My mount skitters nervously as it catches the ubiquitous smell, and my helmet falls over my eyes. I push it up and drop my lance; my squire hands me the lance and my helmet tips again, but I have, in my wisdom, anticipated this. As I fling my arm up to stop my helm, the edge of my shield hits my forehead, knocking me to the ground.

I blink and groan, rolling onto my knees. It is a struggle to stand in armor, but my efforts are not in vain. I rise to my feet, my head searing with pain. Worse, the clanging thud of my fall has wakened the giants, and they lumber to their full heights.

They rise above the treetops--fearful, hideous aberrations on the face of nature. Ones rolls as it tries to stand and crushes the nearby farmhouse; I wince and pray to God that the farmer and his wife were not inside. There are two of them, clumsily constructed, as of cold clay and rock. Lumpy, crude parodies of human beings--God's misbegotten children.

But not without great strength, I remind myself, as a massive club thuds into the ground immediately to my left. My horse rears and tries to run, but I lunge--painfully slowly in my heavy armor--and catch the reins. It is a strong horse, but the weight of a man in armor dragging on its reins is enough to slow it. I call for my squire, and he helps me hoist my bulk onto my mount's back.

I am fearless. The giants stand over me, but I do not move in the face of them until I am fully in the saddle. Then I urge my horse on, galloping past them and turning. They are slow-witted, weak-minded, and it takes them a moment to realize where I have gone.

In that moment I charge, and stab the larger of the two in the back of the knee with my lance. He roars and stamps the ground--I barely escape his pounding feet, and the great quaking earth in the wake of his feet nearly dismounts me again. But I am valiant and strong, and even as the stinking spittle of his cry rains down on me I turn, and catch him a second time. This time I aim higher, sticking my lance into the meat of the other giant's thigh.

Their flesh, though it appears rocky, is rotten with pox, and my wooden lance tears it away to the bone. This smaller giant tries to turn more quickly, to pursue me, but her newly ruined leg betrays her and she falls to the ground, taking part of the forest with her. She moans and raches for me, pulling trees from the ground and throwing them at me. We are nimble, though, and dodge between them, the blood pounding in my ears.

She will present no more problem, and I turn my attention again to the male, who now chases me, limping only slightly. I toss my lance aside, draw my crossbow and load it, turning my mount to face the monster. It neighs in fear, but I pay it no mind. I fire an hour, and strike the great titan's eye. He screams and clutches his face. The foolish beast tries to dig the arrow out, and so completes the injury. I use the time to load a second arrow and take his other eye.

Now he is blind and mad, stumbling for me. I turn and dig in my heels, urging my mount onward. There is a ravine not far from here that my squire and I passed not long ago, and this is where I now ride. I whoop loudly, triumphantly, as I ride, and the injured foe follows the sounds of my yells.

We run together now, the space between us drawing to a close as I ride for the ravine. Twice his hands reach and nearly catch me; I dodge, quick as a bird. At last I see the brush that marks the ravine's edge and ride straight for it, making sure to sing my triumph all the way. As I reach the edges I turn, my horse's hooves skittering on the crumbling soil, and double back, ceasing my cries. From behind me I hear a great cry of surprise, then nothing more. From a safe distance I listen to the first fall to his death, then turn my attention back to the female.

She is limping, lumbering to me, her wound gushing great spouts of thick yellow fluid and slow red blood. I make a wide circle around her, seeing my squire with my discarded lance. A good servant anticipates his master's needs. I come to retrieve it, and he opens his mouth to speak, to beg me off. I do not listen. I take the lance and ride back into the fray.

I charge straight for the female, her face gaping wide in stupid glee. She bends to catch me and I dodge around. In her excitement she tries to folow me and trips, falls. I ride away a little and turn. The giant is on her back, trying to life herself to her side.

This charge is my strongest, my lance steady and my mount pounding hard at the soil. As she rolls to face me, myy lance strikes the giant, digging deep into her stomach. She screams, high and painful, and her flailing arms fling me from my horse. I hear my horse scream as well.

It takes me a moment to regain my senses, lying in the eves of the wounded giants great loins. The blood is puddling around me, and the putrescent stink brings me to my feet. My lance is gone; I do not know what has become of my horse.

I draw my sword. She is a lovely thing--I found her in a museum and took her away under cover of night. This charge may well be my last, and so I put my full strength into it, jabbing and slicing at her hands when they come to me. I leap over the expanse of her arm, and her throat is in view. My blade swings out and cuts deep into her throat. I withdraw and swing again and again, until her limbs fall still, and finally her head is severed.

I am covered in gore and sweat, standing amid the corpse of a giant. My squire appears, breathless, leading my miraculously unharmed horse. He pats me all over, making sure I am not injured. "Good show," he says, "good show. A battle that will live on in legend, no doubt, sir. Only . . ."

I sigh. "Windmills again?"

He shrugs apologetically. "It's what they are, sir."

I stare across the field of battle, thinking of the adventure of my long life. I have rescued maidens and pursued great deeds of valor; I have seen such sights as most mortal men never will. And . . . windmills.

"It is peculiar," I say, "that where I see the beautiful and fantastic, everyone else sees the ordinary. The pale dross of the everyday. So then, my friend, which one of us is mad?"

My squire thinks a moment, then answers. "You, sir."

"That's as may be." I wipe my sword clean and stow it in its scabbard. "Come, my friend--perhaps there is a damsel still to be rescued before nightfall."

He nods. "Very well, sir."

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